Laptops are undergoing change like never before. New designs with ultra-thin profiles, touchscreens, and convertible hinges are making their way to the market in hopes of changing the way people will forever use laptops.
Meanwhile, HP’s business line has remained stubborn in the face of a changing industry and just wants those dang kids to get off its lawn. You’ll find no Ultrabooks here, sonny!
HP’s most portable business laptops, like the HP EliteBook 2170p, are still firmly in the realm of the ultraportable. Our tiny review unit arrived with a Core i5-3317U processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB mechanical hard drive. This model is sold for around $1,100 online, though the exact configuration can be hard to track down.
That puts the 2170p on par with the pricing of the best consumer Ultrabooks. Does its old-school style have benefits that its slim competitors can’t match? Let’s take a look.
The HP EliteBook 2170p represents the cutting edge of laptop hardware in 2009. Since it’s a business laptop, it must look professional; and it most certainly does. With tight panel gaps and firm surfaces all around, it’s extremely well built. Its strong chassis can be attributed to the metal used along both the exterior and interior.
However, this is one chunky laptop. The 11.6-inch display leads to a small footprint, but the laptop’s profile is just over an inch. This makes it feel – and look – outdated. On several occasions, even people familiar with current laptops mistook it as an older model that we’d purchased and had been using for some time. They had no idea it was brand new until we told them.
One area where the laptop feels modern is connectivity (and that’s no compliment). Its thick flanks are dotted with two USB 3.0 ports, DisplayPort, VGA, a combo headphone/mic jack, and a card reader. That’s a limited selection for any laptop, and it’s particularly poor for one that makes professional use a priority.
HP manages to pack a lot of keyboard in this tiny package by using almost every millimeter of space available. The result is a surprisingly spacious layout that doesn’t suffer from any key feeling uselessly small. Key travel is reasonable, and there’s plenty of room between each individual key.
However, space below the keyboard is an issue. We often found our hands hanging off the front of the laptop, and its thick profile made matters worse because we couldn’t easily rest our palms on the desk or table. Our hands were left hanging uncomfortably in the air instead.
The small touchpad finds itself crammed between two sets of independent left/right buttons: one for the touchpad, and one for the trackpointer in the keyboard. Multitouch gestures were responsive but proved hard to use in the limited area available.
Like most business laptops, the EliteBook 2170p comes with a matte display. Its resolution of 1366 x 768 isn’t exceptional, but it’s more than adequate for an 11.6-inch panel. We also found the display to appear bright in most environments. Only direct sunlight can make the laptop difficult to use.
Unfortunately, that’s where our praise of the display ends. Benchmarks showed the display capable of only 56 percent of the sRGB gamut. Contrast and black level tests were similarly unimpressive, and screen uniformity tests indicated issues as well. Areas along the outside of the display were up to 20 percent brighter than the center. These issues are not uncommon for laptops with matte finishes, but HP could rectify them by using an IPS panel, which would also help the 2170p expand its limited viewing angle. Lenovo and ASUS both offer matte IPS displays, and they look great.
Audio quality is decent, though the speakers are tuned for conference calls instead of rock ‘n’ roll. Maximum volume is loud, and the laptop manages to produce sounds without falling into distortion. However, there’s absolutely no bass, so audio tracks sound flat.
Constant but quiet
If the laptop is on, so is the fan. We never used the 2170p without hearing it. Fortunately, the fan barely varies in speed, making it quiet and easily obscured by background noise. Our test results showed the 2170p’s fan noise was a bit below average. Even our nastiest stress tests didn’t push noise above 43 decibels, while sound at idle was usually around 41.5 decibels.
Heat was also kept in check. At idle, the laptop was never hotter than 85.1 degrees Fahrenheit, and that reading increased to only 91.9 at maximum load. The 2170p proved to be one of the coolest laptops we’ve tested, which is even more impressive considering the size.
Our review unit weighed in at about 3 pounds, which, combined with the laptop’s small size, makes the 2170p a good travel companion. Our only issue is the battery. As you might have guessed, the size was the problem. No, it’s not too small; instead, it’s a bit too large. The bulky 48Wh unit juts out from the laptop’s rear and makes it a bit less convenient to carry than you’d expect.
Our Battery Eater load test drained the large battery in 2 hours and 37 minutes, while our light-load test ate through it in 6 hours and 23 minutes. Our Web browsing test lasted 5 hours and 2 minutes. All of these figures are average for an ultraportable or Ultrabook.
Power draw proved minimal in our tests. At idle, the laptop used as little as 9 watts of power. Placing a load on the CPU increased power draw to just 21 watts, and the laptop used 33 watts while charging. These figures tie with the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge Twistfor the best we’ve ever recorded, making this a very power-friendly laptop.
Protect tools, protecting you
Like all EliteBooks, this laptop comes with HP’s suite of enterprise software, which includes utilities like HP Connection Manager, HP Protect Tools, and HP Power Assistant. Having matured over time, these apps now look great. They’re intuitive and offer functionality that even home users can enjoy.
Bloatware is otherwise non-existent. Instead of coming with an annoying trial security suite, our laptop came with Microsoft Security Essentials. All pre-installed software launched at boot is part of HP’s software suite.
No surprises in performance
Stop us if you’ve heard this before. This laptop comes with a Core i5-3317U processor, 4GB of RAM and lacks discrete graphics …
That line describes the 2170p. It also can be used to describe almost any Ultrabook or ultraportable on the market today. The EliteBook posted an expected score of 37.59 GOPS in SiSoft Sandra’s Processor Arithmetic benchmark, and a score of 7212 in 7-Zip. These results are just a hair above average for laptops with this processor, but, to be honest, you’d never know the difference outside of benchmark software.
PCMark 7 pointed out the weakness of this configuration by turning in a score of only 2,670. The slow mechanical hard drive simply can’t match the solid-state drives found in many competitors. In the real world, this flaw is felt in mediocre application and file load times.
Gaming is also one of the laptop’s weaknesses. 3DMark 06 and 3DMark 11 turned in respective scores of 4,926 and 568, which are average for the category. These types of scores indicate a laptop that struggles to play modern 3D games at anything beyond low detail. Anyone with the slightest interest in gaming performance should look elsewhere.
The EliteBook line is long overdue for an update. Today, when placed alongside modern Ultrabooks, the 2170p looks and feels ancient. It’s thick, it’s bulky, and it lacks a responsive solid-state drive. These traits make it a poor alternative to any number of consumer Ultrabooks on the market.
Even business users have a better option in the Lenovo X230, which beats the 2170p in almost every category. The only advantage we can give to the EliteBook is its software suite, which is now more intuitive and more useful than Lenovo’s increasingly confusing ThinkVantage software.
Perhaps this laptop’s most glaring flaw is its price. Even a downgraded model that ships with only a Core i3 processor sells for about $950 at online retailers and $999 on HP’s own site. That’s way too much for an 11-inch laptop that doesn’t have an SSD and is much thicker than most of its competitors.
We hope that the next EliteBook to come to our office will be a sleek, revised model that takes design lessons from HP’s excellent HP Envy 15 and HP Envy 14 Spectre. The current line just can’t compete with today’s best.
- Good build quality
- Remains cool and quiet at load
- Useful pre-installed software
- Could use more connectivity
- Small touchpad
- Poor display quality
- SSD not standard, expensive as an upgrade